Tom Daschle: Friend to Many Autism Families

Nearly 60 percent of all autism parents believe that vaccines played a role in their child's illness, according to a recent survey. Still, their views have been met with scorn and ridicule from most of the scientific community, which insists that the vaccine-autism debate is not only a sham, but over.

These critics, of course, ignore the fact that ongoing investigations into mercury, vaccines and autism continue, and will continue, in the vast medical research apparatus contained within the mammoth US Department of Health and Human Services.

By nominating Tom Daschle to head up the Department, President Elect Obama has selected a man who has demonstrated an unflinching willingness to question vaccine safety, and to fight for the rights of those people who believe they have been, or may be, seriously injured by certain vaccinations.

Senator Daschle is not anti-vaccine, but his record shows his determination to question - and even oppose - vaccine makers and big pharmaceutical interests when it comes to protecting the rights of American medical consumers.

It was in November of 2002 (exactly six years ago) when I got my inspiration to write "Evidence of Harm." The House had just passed the Homeland Security Bill, onto which some unidentified Member (it turned out to be Dick Armey) had attached a last-minute rider granting autism liability protection to all drug companies using the mercury-based preservative thimerosal in US childhood vaccines.

As I wrote in my book, many autism parents mobilized to try to stop the undemocratically amended Bill in the Senate. Their chief allies were Joe Lieberman and Tom Daschle, who authored an amendment to the Homeland Security Bill that included this provision:

Childhood Vaccines

The Republican substitute would take complaints (against drug companies) about vaccine additives out of the courts and require them to be made through what's called the Federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which handles other vaccine-related claims. This would mean a host of lawsuits could be dismissed, including claims involving the mercury-based preservative, thimerosal, which defendants claim causes autism in children.

The Democratic amendment would strike this provision.

For the parents in my book, there was only a few days before the Senate voted on the homeland bill. As I wrote:

Senate Democrats Tom Daschle and Joe Lieberman were offering an amendment to remove the riders, but no one thought it would be easy. For one thing, the House had already adjourned. If the Senate were to tinker with the legislation, House members would have to be recalled en masse to special session to vote on the revamped bill. In the age of Al Qaeda, and with the winds of war rising in Iraq, such a delay for many lawmakers would be untenable


But the Democrats were backing the so-called "Mercury Moms" on this one:

"We are heartened that Senators Lieberman and Daschle are offering an amendment to remove extraneous additions like the thimerosal liability shield from the Homeland Security Act," said Sallie (Bernard, of SAFE MINDS) in the statement. "This addition is an example of all that is wrong with a system of using last minute riders to subvert the legislative process."

On November 15, 2002, Daschle spoke on the Senate floor:

Senator Lieberman and I filed an amendment yesterday that deals with all of the egregious special interest provisions. There is a provision, as you may know, that provides liability protection for pharmaceutical companies that actually make mercury-based vaccine preservatives that actually have caused autism in children. It wipes out all of the litigation.

Still, Republicans were narrowly able to defeat the amendment later that afternoon.

But the next day, Daschle returned to the floor, vowing to fight on. "This isn't over," he said. "But even if we are successful, I don't know if you can put the pieces back together for these families." (The thimerosal provision was removed from the Homeland Bill by an act of Congress in January of 2003).

It wasn't the only time that Senator Daschle would stand up publicly to vaccine makers in favor of prudent public safety.

A less publicized provision of the Lieberman-Daschle Homeland Security amendment read as follows:


The Republican substitute would give the Secretary of the new Department broad authority to designate certain technologies as so-called "qualified anti-terrorism technologies." This designation would entitle the seller of that technology to broad liability protection from any claim arising out of, relating to, or resulting from an act of terrorism, including complete immunity in many cases, no matter how negligent the seller. It would cap the seller's liability at the limits of its insurance policy.

The Democratic amendment would strike this provision.

Daschle was a vocal skeptic of the safety of the anthrax vaccine. The US was buying millions of doses at the time, especially after spores were sent to the offices of certain U.S. Officials, including Tom Daschle.

According to the website

Federal officials believe that Senator Tom Daschle's objections to the anthrax vaccine being given to soldiers may have been a prime reason why he was targeted in the 2001 anthrax attacks. Daschle raised concerns that the vaccine would make members of the National Guard ill--a suggestion that anthrax vaccine researcher Bruce Ivins evidently was angry about.

Speculation has been rampant that Ivins, a federal scientist directly engaged in vaccine research, initiated a series of deadly attacks using anthrax in order to boost interest and funding for his work and perhaps profit from a scramble for a new and better vaccine. Ivins committed suicide on August 1 as the FBI was preparing a case against him.

Other reports claim that government documents show that Daschle staff members were pressuring the Department of Defense to abandon Ivins' vaccine, due to safety concerns.

The military has reported that up to 2% of all military service members may have received debilitating injuries from vaccines they were given. That could mean upwards of 48,000 men and women, some of them likely wounded by the same anthrax vaccine that Senator Daschle was trying to kill.

Again, I am sure that Senator Daschle is not anti-vaccine, and I have no idea what his views are on the vaccine-autism debate today.

But I do know that, six years ago, he said that "mercury-based vaccine preservatives actually have caused autism in children." And I know that he tried to stop production of a vaccine that he felt was hurting far too many people.

I can already anticipate the howls of protest from certain sectors of the scientific community. But I hope they will give the next HHS Secretary the respect and support he will need to tackle autism and all the other health problems we face.

For his open mind and willingness to stand up for consumers - civilian and military - alone, I think that Daschle is a choice that many autism families will support.

If nothing else, his views on vaccine safety issues, including autism, are sure to get a fair and ample hearing at the Senate confirmation hearings.

Finally, speaking of the Homeland Security Bill and the thimerosal rider, this is how I opened the first page of the Prologue of "Evidence of Harm":

Lyn Redwood got the call from a lawyer friend only an hour before the (Homeland Security) vote. The prospects were bad, he told her. It was too late to do much about it now.

It turns out that the "lawyer friend" will probably be working as a senior member of the Obama Administration, right alongside Secretary Daschle.

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